With all the recent data breaches and Facebook privacy issues, we’re getting lots of questions about private browsing, also known as “incognito mode.” Should you be using it? If you already do, is your information safe? Here’s what you need to know about using incognito mode and how it affects your privacy.
With regular browsing, your computer saves your search history (until you clear it), so if you found a cute birthday gift for your child and can’t remember the website the next day, you can go through your browser history to find it. Your browser also stores cookies, which are small files of data that help customize a website to you. That’s why you might return to a website to find yourself already logged in, or see ads for items that you had been searching for.
If you decide to use a private browsing option (also called “incognito mode”), which is available on pretty much all the popular browsers including Firefox, Safari, Chrome, and Internet Explorer, you change the behavior of your own browser. This means that your history is not saved. So, if your child hops on to use that browser to do their math homework, they won’t see that cute birthday gift you were searching for.
However, everything you search, even in incognito mode, is still attached to your IP address, and that information can be tracked. Basically, all the sites you visit can still see your IP address. You’re only hiding where you’re visiting from your own browser, not everyone else.
And this might go without saying, but if you download or bookmark anything while you’re in incognito mode, it’s still saved on your computer. So while incognito mode hides what you’ve been searching on your own browser, it should not be used as a privacy or security measure by any means.
You can find reviews of various networks and search engines that do provide extra privacy protection at varying levels, like Tor or DuckDuckGo, just to name a couple, which might be worth checking out.